Close Encounters with Erich Schiffmann

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September 13, 2012

I spent last weekend hanging out with Erich Schiffmann, a yoga teacher of 44 years, author of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, and a dude who says “Wow,” “Yay,” and “Awesome” more than I do! I got to practice mirror-gazing meditation, get my first taste of freestyle yoga, listen to inspirational talks, laugh, reeelaaxxx (that’s how Erich says it), learn, hang out with a cool group of yogis, and eat lots of yummy vegetarian food.

This all took place in the charming and hippy-esque village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, at a weekend Essentials of Freedom Style Yoga retreat led by Erich, which was lovingly organized by Patricia Schneider and Andrew Junker, the founders of Yellow Springs Yoga. I really want to send out a big hug to these two for bringing such incredible yoga teachers to Ohio – it really is unbelievable to be able to drive a few hours and study with a master teacher like Erich.

Thank You Patricia and Andrew!

This morning I was going through all of my notes to prepare a post to recap the weekend, and there is just too much good stuff to download, so I’ll be sharing little nuggets of Erich wisdom over the coming weeks. Here are just a few memorable moments from the weekend…

It’s Fun to Be Learning

Erich shared that, after practicing yoga for 44 years, he is still in love with it; in fact, he admitted that he is even more in love with it now than he has ever been! And, after he shared this, he got this big grin on his face, followed by his infectious chuckle, and told us that part of the deal with yoga is that you just keep learning. With that same playful chuckle, he admitted that he hasn’t done a sun salutation in years; yet, his practice has become more intelligent, respectful, easier, and fun!

I found this refreshingly inspirational because I have wondered a few times if I will ever tire of practicing yoga, if somehow the utter joy of it will start to diminish. After hearing Erich speak with such enthusiasm, I know there will always be room for me to learn, live, and grow in my yoga practice, and this on-going learning is and will continue to be awesome.

Freedom Style Yoga Rocks

On Saturday after going through a practice of meditation and asana, Erich set us up for a little freedom-style yoga. We were basically told to do what we wanted to do, to plug into the yoga patterns that we already know, to pause and tune in to the asanas and trust ourselves. Erich explained that when these downloads occur, we give expression to what we’re feeling and channel it into our practice. And then he said words that were magical to me, “Give yourself permission to deviate from the prescribed pattern.”

During freedom-style yoga sessions Erich plays cool yoga music (from peeps like DJ Drez and Donna DeLory) and just lets the class do their thing. All I can say is wow—freestyle yoga rocks! When I experienced it, I closed my eyes, let my body relax and flow and do what organically felt good. I found myself putting together some really kick-ass flows that I want to share. Erich encouraged us to keep a notebook handy when we practice freedom-style yoga to journal what we experience and then teach pieces of it. It’s kind of like making up your own song and then teaching it to others.

I have a confession to make: My virgin freedom-style yoga experience was so much fun, so exhilarating and liberating, that it moved me to tears. But as with all my yoga cries, they were tears of joy.

After class I went to talk to Erich, who was extremely kind and approachable to all the workshop participants, and told him about my experience. His response was, “Yay, Awesome! Yay for Free Form,” and then he gave me a big hug. How cool is that!

This awesome photo was taken by the lovely Alie McManus

I’m looking forward to putting on some music this week, pulling out my yoga mat, and putting my new freedom-style yoga to practice. In fact, I’m going to practicing pausing and hesitating both on and off the mat instead of flailing about. I’m going to use these pauses to download and become more creative, to put more soul into what I do, to make it my song, and maybe come up with a few yoga poses of my own!

Have you ever tried freestyle yoga? If so, what kind of music did you play, and what kind of download did you have? I would love to hear from some of you, so please leave a comment below. And, if you have never tried it, I encourage you to give it a go.

Stay tuned because I’ll be sharing more about my experience in Yellow Springs with Erich Schiffmann. And, if you were wondering, thankfully there were no embarrassing moments like what I experienced when I studied with Rodney Yee and Max Strom.

Leave a Comment

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Sondra September 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM

Children of the Sun (Billy Thorpe), Dani California (Chili Peppers), several songs from Echo and the Bunnymen, etc….that’s where my freak flag flies.

It’s part of my background to latch on to such opportunities and match body with beat an rhythm, it is a very freeing and awakening experience. I love to let it rip by myself on the mat, and I really enjoyed you chronicling you passage to your own creative flow.

Maybe we should start #flowjunkie ; )


Maria @dailydownwarddog September 13, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Sondra – I love it! The #flowjunkie twitter yogini team is about to be born!!


Nicole Kennedy September 13, 2012 at 10:27 AM

I did not know the term “freestyle yoga”, but realize it is what I do at the end of the day when I am pooped and dont want to think. I just turn on whatever music is calling to me and go for it. Sometimes I am into the next pose before my mind catches up…..Sometimes I flow, sometimes I hold. I will pick up his book, sounds like a “cool dude”….


Maria @dailydownwarddog September 13, 2012 at 1:31 PM

Nicole – he is a really cool dude! Check out his website – and you can attend some of his LA based classes – they are recorded and available online. Some are free and some you can subscribe to.


Stephanie Spence September 13, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Sounds like an amazing experience. Will freestyle it today on the beach. Namaste


Maria @dailydownwarddog September 13, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Stephanie – enjoy your freestyle beach yoga! I’m teaching a sunset beach yoga class tonight and I’m thinking a little freestyle yoga is going to happen! 🙂


Meredith LeBlanc September 13, 2012 at 9:52 PM

I feel like I practice free style yoga everyday – its a mix of Hatha, Kundalini, pranayama, & meditation. The order changes – I just wake up and listen – then let Yoga happen.



Alie McManus September 13, 2012 at 10:44 PM

Hi Sweet Heart,

Love your Blog! Your experience in Freeform sounds awesomely overwhelming. You go Girl!!! It’s so unmistakably huge feeling to freeform with everyone in the room together like that.

Thank-You for the photo Cred!!! That’s super cool.

Funny, my first name is Alie. Erich send me an email and said something about Alice 😉 Super funny!

I’m sure you already know but today is Erich’s Have you sent him Birthday Love?

I love your page here! It’s great!

Best Wishes and Love,



Maria @dailydownwarddog September 13, 2012 at 11:13 PM

Alie – thanks so much for stopping by the DDD! Sorry I got your name wrong – I was still a little woozy from all that awesome freedom style yoga! I fixed it for you 🙂 Hope our paths cross again someday soon!


Arthur Klein September 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Great post.

I practice FSY here in Venice California with Erich on the last Wed of every month. It is the best class of the month usually. Have you checked out Erich’s site yet?
Hi Daily Downward Dog,

I help Erich with the sight and it makes the practice easy to evolve by hearing and seeing what Erich teaches. Currently the membership includes the Ali MacGraw, Erich Schiffmann 1994 Video which is one of the earliest Yoga practice videos.

in Love, Light and Peace,
Om Mani Padme Hum



Maria @dailydownwarddog September 14, 2012 at 10:29 AM

Arthur –
Thanks for stopping by the Daily Downward Dog and also for putting a link up to my post on!

Yes – I am familiar with this site and I’m a member of it! I love getting to listen and take part in Erich’s classes – it’s almost as good as being there in person. One day I am going to have to make the trek out to Venice for the FSY class!!



Pune September 16, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Maria! Beautiful blog!! I am impressed with how you took all those notes (I saw you!) with the intent of blogging while still staying fully present. I’ve really enjoyed my forays into freedom-style this past week, very much basing it on some of the sequences that Erich showed us. It was nice to have that foundation from him before we took off on our own.. sort of like painting…you can’t really be Jackson Pollock or Picasso until you’ve put in your time doing still lifes, learning perspective/light/negative space, etc. (Sorry to any artists I’ve offended if that sounds simplistic…analogy-maker module’s a little slow-running on Sunday AM).

I’ve not yet explored music–but I’m willing to try! I’m thinking trying out the Stones’ “No Expectations” or something completely sweet and dripping in Big Mind from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

Thank you again, Maria, for your wonderful and inspired blog. I also loved reading about your special encounters with Rodney and Max–please don’t ever not say the first thing on your mind!!


Maria @dailydownwarddog September 17, 2012 at 10:12 PM

Pune –
So glad I got to meet you at the workshop! Let’s stay in touch and let me know how that Freedom Style with music goes! I like your musical choices!!


Susan September 16, 2012 at 8:10 PM

Sounds like a great experience!


Tracey February 19, 2013 at 7:53 AM

This article made me feel so good and freed some fears I’d recently been having bout my practice and teaching. It once again brought me back to “just being” and brought my confidence back in check. Keep these inspiring pieces coming!! Already thinking about my next playlist…..


Maria @dailydownwarddog February 19, 2013 at 7:59 AM

Tracey –
The inspirational credit goes to Erich – as he totally inspired me the weekend I studied with him.
Thanks for stopping by The Daily Downward Dog!



Moe Kohan December 4, 2014 at 9:32 PM

I like to e mail you my latest vision and here ,what you think about it.


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